Opinion: Perspective - The Wnek and Langdon match was too superficial

From the day that it was announced, bets were on as to how long the Mark Wnek/Ben Langdon pairing would actually last.

The answer, we discovered this week: 116 days.

This may be something of a record for the advertising industry, but it will surprise no-one except, perhaps, those involved.

There was something quite clearly wrong with the Ben Mark Orlando proposition from the start. The positioning seemed sound: offering clients direct access to proven, top-level talent, without the intervening layers of junior staff. And although the first-names name was a real lip-curler, it was a smart (if necessary) differentiator. As for the soft-focus pictures of Wnek and baby, and the accompanying PR-fuelled protestations that these two legendarily tough characters were mellowing, well, they were talking points at least.

The real problem with the whole idea was much simpler than that. Advertising is a business predicated on relationships. But the Ben/Mark pairing was a sort of boy-band start-up; a partnership of expediency rather than shared vision.

Wnek, keen to prove himself once more at the creative coal-face, had a thirst for the start-up challenge: the grubby, hands-dirty, back-to-basics thrill of seeing if you've still got it. And, after a decade of a reasonably successful partnership with Bret Gosper, Wnek was looking for a kindred spirit.

So comfortably a corporation man and happiest with an empire beneath his feet, Langdon's whole management style and personal approach demand ranks of employees, a big office, status and power. He can be charming and persuasive (as Wnek will testify). But he's a man with a frightening reputation, who left behind him "a bruised agency" when he was edged out of McCann, according to one IPG-er.

The idea that the pair (both "bruisers", admittedly) could find mutual ground for a new venture was riveting and ridiculous. A partnership, particularly one in advertising with all the requirements of dedication and excellence, demands one thing above all others: loyalty. Advertising is a business built on entrepreneurialism.

But, with any start-up, reputations, houses and families inevitable go on the line; only blind faith in and commitment to the people around you will drag you through. More like a marriage than a marriage (and, more often than not, the one will sacrifice the other), a start-up partnership will test even the most established relationships to the core.

Langdon and Wnek had no history; to think that their reputations and bravado could see them through was naive at best. At worst, it exposes some of the failings of the ad business: a lack of business rigour, a thirst for hyperbole, ego-fuelled, unchecked ambition. Meanwhile, those recent start-ups born out of a proven working relationship (Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, Clemmow Hornby Inge) thrive.

At a stroke, Langdon has achieved two things: he's managed to fuel almost universal sympathy for Wnek (a rare feat), who I think genuinely has committed himself to his start-up and his team and has been enjoying the challenge.

And Langdon's also sent a wave of apprehension through Euro RSCG in London.

Langdon may have made a genuine mistake in thinking he was the sort of man who could handle the start-up culture. But he has done his already damaged reputation no favours by giving it a go.

- Caroline Marshall is on holiday.


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